Jeremias Thiel describes his years as a pupil at the UWC Robert Bosch College in Freiburg as one of the best times of his life. On his way there, he had to overcome numerous obstacles, since his childhood was marked by poverty. Jeremias is now attending university in the United States. Here, the 19-year-old speaks about his journey and about the strength he has acquired through education: It has shown him what makes him who he is.
Education plays an important role in my life – if not one of the most important. When I was a child, school for me was primarily a place outside the family. In that sense, it was also something of a refuge. In my elementary school years, I didn’t necessarily associate school with learning; rather, it was a place where I met people like myself – that is, other children and young people. At that time I was not good at focusing my attention, because there were many completely different issues and responsibilities in my life that I had to worry about.
In second grade, one of my teachers noticed that I needed help, and she arranged for me to be admitted to a day care group. This provided structures such as regular homework times, which were crucial and helpful for me in bringing a little order into my life. But at the end of my elementary school years, I was not recommended for Gymnasium (German advanced secondary school) even though my grades were good. This one missing checkmark in my letter of recommendation – that was a kick in the teeth. I am convinced that people – especially young people – who grow up in poverty always have to go two or three extra miles to achieve essentially the same results.
Teachers who challenge and support
After receiving my secondary school certificate, I attended the UWC Robert Bosch College in Freiburg. This was a completely different dimension in education, because the individual support I received there had a very different quality. At the UWC, I obtained my International Baccalaureate – a highly renowned and recognized diploma. But in order to achieve a really good IB, you have to start out with a certain educational background and have already learned how to learn. People normally only have this if they have been taught certain structures. This is where it quickly became clear that I had previously attended a Gesamtschule (comprehensive school). I took up the challenge to achieve the same IB as all of my classmates.
Jeremias Thiel lived and attended school at the UWC Robert Bosch College in Freiburg for two years and gained a wide variety of experiences there.
Teachers also play an important role here. Sometimes they represent hope and sometimes hopelessness. At my Gesamtschule in Kaiserslautern as well as later at the UWC, I had teachers who committed to their roles with great dedication and a sense of responsibility. Those teachers are little diamonds. But I also believe that there are many teachers who could do a better job. When teachers support and challenge their students, they can truly change lives – I am convinced of this.
Education is more than grades
But at the UWC, I didn’t just become acquainted with purely academic learning – that is, learning for grades. Education consists of much more than that. For example, if you sit together with your classmates in the common room for two or three hours in the evening and start talking, and the conversation moves in all different directions and you simply realize how incredibly interesting every individual is. Or if you watch a documentary with your roommates about the American intervention in Afghanistan and one of your classmates tells you what it was really like during the Iraq war.
Jeremias (right) describes his years at the UWC Robert Bosch College as one of the best times of his life – thanks in part to the people he met there.
Thanks to the people I met there, my years at the UWC were probably the best time in my life. There, I also had to teach myself about tolerance and diversity and come to the realization that I also still carry many barriers within myself. Prior to that time, I had scarcely had any contact with people of completely different religions or to the LGBTQ community. That was a wonderful experience. What I took from my time at the UWC is the fact that we are learning primarily for life.
More diversity in schools
It would be good if there were more schools like this, where there is so much diversity. However, I am a realist, not an idealist, and I know that it would be difficult to put this into practice for every child in Germany. But bringing a little more diversity into the classrooms would be a good approach. By this I mean that not only should different nationalities or religions come into contact with one another, but also people from different social or cultural backgrounds. Above all, education should also be designed to provide an understanding of what makes up human beings in all of their diversity.
“For me, education is constant reflection and self-examination”
That’s why we should seriously ask ourselves what education is based on and what education teaches us for life. I believe that self-discipline is a large part of it; self-organization, structured work, and all the things that go on around it. I recognized early on that these qualities are necessary, which is why I was able to recognize the need for education. When I look at my educational background, for example, I can see that the Gesamtschule gave me insights into the living conditions of many different people. That was a positive thing that I could draw from that experience.
For me, education is constant reflection and self-examination – and then also examining society. And of course education gives you access to further resources in life: for example, to get into a good degree program, make connections, and get jobs. Education generates all of this, and education is still the number one driver of social advancement. During my time at school, I learned what defines me as a person.
Jeremias Thiel grew up in difficult economic circumstances. Neither of his parents was capable of caring for him sufficiently. Therefore, at the age of eleven, he decided that he no longer wanted to live with his parents and consulted with the youth welfare office. From that time on, he lived in an SOS Children’s Village in Kaiserslautern. After receiving his secondary school certificate, he attended the UWC Robert Bosch College in Freiburg and completed his International Baccalaureate. Since then, he has studied at St. Olaf College in the US state of Minnesota. In order to recount his experiences, he wrote the book Kein Pausenbrot, keine Kindheit, keine Chance [No Packed Lunch, No Childhood, No Chance], which was published in the spring of 2020.